South China Sea ruling may become 'irrelevant' - maritime expert


Posted at Jul 10 2017 06:13 PM

MANILA - A maritime affairs expert believes the international court ruling in favor of the Philippines' arguments for maritime entitlements over the West Philippine Sea may soon become irrelevant if the government does not do anything about it.

Atty. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the Philippines should raise the issue while it still can.

"The right time to raise the award is the time at which China could still do something, that the Philippines can still maintain its access, or at least reach an agreement between equals with China on what goes on in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea, which is our part of it," he said.

Without talking about the issue, the country may completely lose its access to its territories in the South China Sea once China has established its dominance over it.

"The problem is, the way things are going, there will be a time where the arbitration, the ruling, might become literally irrelevant simply because China will have already achieved dominance in the West Philippine Sea. They have already established their presence there. They are free to do anything they want, whether its military, paramilitary or civilian," Batongbacal explained, saying the Permanent Court of Arbitration's (PCA) landmark ruling last year may soon become "irrelevant."

"So at some point, that will be almost impossible to push back and that's what I'm worried about really, that that time is coming really fast," he added.

For Batongbacal, it is important to talk about the award now to protect the country's territories in the South China Sea.

"That's why we have to raise it now in order for us to put in place some protective mechanism. We should at least protect our own access to these resources, and these resources themselves," he said.

Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines' arguments for maritime entitlements over the West Philippine Sea, dealing a major legal blow to China's claims in the area rich in seafood and other resources.

President Duterte had refused to raise the landmark ruling last July, which was initiated by his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, as he sought a thaw in relations between the Philippines and China.